Your people are your company's most important asset, so how do you ensure that you're hiring the right people? By carefully recruiting and screening. The process can be a time-consuming and arduous, but the rewards of your efforts — namely, having a first-class team of people representing your company every day — are well worth it.

In any hiring decision, it's important for both the company and the candidate that the position be clearly defined. You must establish the "ideal" candidate profile, and define the role, metrics, pay, and benefits of the position. Know exactly what you're looking for, and be prepared to convey the appropriate goals and expectations to the candidates.

Recruiting is never easy. Although there's generally an abundant inventory of talent in any given area, it can be difficult to get the word out to the right people. Ads in newspapers and on websites such as CareerBuilder are viable ways to reach a certain percentage of your target audience. We are also proponents of providing your current team with business card size "handouts" that they can give to people they encounter during their day-to-day work. All these handouts need to contain is a positive message about your company, and a contact name and number. Give them to your best people to carry with them; it's likely they'll find their way into the hands of other excellent people.

We've also found it useful to hold informative classes on-site about our available positions. Prepare a simple PowerPoint presentation that describes the position’s benefits, physical requirements, pay structure, and your company's policies.

Six Steps to Hiring Success

  1. Conduct an initial five to seven minute phone screening.
  2. For candidates who impress you in the short phone interview, follow up with a 20 to 30 minute phone interview. This interview should be performed by the manager of the appropriate department (i.e., the sales manager for sales positions; the service manager for technicians). If there's more than one candidate, conduct all interviews on the same day.
  3. Invite the most impressive candidates into the office for an in-person interview. In this interview, focus on the candidates' experience and accomplishments, and ensure that they have the key criteria to meet your "ideal candidate" profile.
  4. Ask the candidates to perform the appropriate assessments, tests and profiles. We recommend a personality screening test for all applicants (there are a number of such tests available), and a skills and knowledge assessment test for technicians.
  5. Call the best candidates back for a second interview. Focus this interview on the candidates' ability to align their skills and talents with the position.
  6. Make your hiring decision.

Three Tips to Manage the Process

During each interview, when discussing a candidate's past employment, listen for responses that sound like excuses or blaming. This can indicate a lack or commitment and desire and an unwillingness to accept responsibility.

Have multiple people at your company interview the candidate separately and then compare notes, or conduct a "panel" interview. Either method can be effective, just be sure to treat all candidates equally.

Get feedback from office personnel. What was your office staff's initial impression of the candidate? How did the candidate make them feel? You can even extend this "outside perspective" to include non-employees. For example, during the last round of hiring at Benson's Heating & Air Conditioning, the candidates' final interview was conducted by the office manager and the wives of two of the company's managers. Insights provided by these individuals can be valuable.

When hiring a salesperson, be aware of statements that indicate the need for approval, the tendency to become emotionally involved in a sale, the presence of self-limiting beliefs, or a tendency to be uncomfortable talking about money. These are weaknesses that can hinder a salesperson's success. One, or a combination of several, of these weaknesses can neutralize several strengths, and crush a salesperson's ability to perform when faced with his or her demons during the sales process.

Be aware that some candidates may possess the ability to sell, but may lack the will to do so. The key skills you are looking for in a salesperson are commitment, responsibility, desire, a positive outlook, and resiliency.

Finally, and ultimately most importantly, once you've hired a good person — whether that person is sales, office staff, or field personnel — you must back up your good decision by providing the proper training. Not training your people is an unforgivable sin and a waste of all of your recruiting efforts. It's the number one reason people fail in new jobs, and too often the blame of placed on the person who fails, rather than the management team that permitted the failure to occur.

Initial training and coaching during the first four weeks is critical, and we strongly recommend having programs in place to help your new hires succeed. No matter how talented and successful they have been in the past, they have never been talented and successful at your company. It's up to you to provide that guidance. After the first month, ongoing training and coaching remains important. Have a program of ride-alongs, coaching and internal support. Stay involved. Remember, you can't coach from the locker room.

Recruiting, screening, hiring, and training the highest quality people is a difficult task, but it’s one you should gladly accept and embrace as an owner or manager, because your people are your company. They'll take your company down the road to success, mediocrity, or failure. Of those choices, although the road to success might not be the easy road, it's the only road.

Daniel Boyette , is director of retail operations, Benson’s Heating & Air Conditioning, Tallahassee, FL. He can be reached at 850/562-3132 or by e-mail at dboyette@bensonshvac.com.

Drew Cameron is president of HVAC Sellutions, Pocopson, PA. He was recently named the "Consultant of the Year" by the Service Roundtable. He can be reached at 888/621-7888, or by e-mail at drew@hvacsellutions.com.

This article is based on "How to Build a Winning Service and Sales Team," which Boyette and Cameron presented during HVAC Comfortech 2010 in Baltimore, MD. The 2011 edition of HVAC Comfortech and HVACR Week will be held Sept. 21-23 in Indianapolis, IN. Visit http://www.hvaccomfortech.com for additional show information.